15 Puzzle

A problem from the 1999 Russian mathematical olympiad:

Show that the numbers from 1 to 15 can’t be divided into a group A of 13 numbers and a group B of 2 numbers so that the sum of the numbers in A equals the product of the numbers in B.

Click for Answer

Shhhh!

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To amuse themselves in 1907, librarians Edmund Lester Pearson and John Cotton Dana published The Old Librarian’s Almanack, a pamphlet they alleged to have been written originally in 1773 by Jared Bean, “curator or librarian of the Connecticut Society of Antiquarians,” and evidently a man of strong opinions:

So far as your Authority will permit of it, exercise great Discrimination as to which Persons shall be admitted to the use of the Library. For the Treasure House of Literature is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the unreasoning Mob, than is a fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts.

Question each Applicant closely. See that he be a Person of good Reputation, scholarly habits, sober and courteous Demeanour. Any mere Trifler, a Person that would Dally with Books, or seek in them shallow Amusement, may be Dismiss’d without delay.

The book was reviewed seriously in the New York Sun, the New York Times, the Hartford Courant, Publisher’s Weekly, the Newburyport Daily News, the Providence Sunday Journal, and even the Library Association Record, which asked “what librarian would not at times in his secret soul sympathize” with Bean’s irritation with patrons who disturbed his reading time.

Finally Helen E. Haines of the Library Journal discerned the hoax, and the library community realized it had been had. Public Libraries wrote, “We congratulate the author of the book on being so clever to project himself into the past, as to deceive even the very elect. The book is well worth owning and reading. Let us be thankful that one with humor, imagination and sympathy has created for us dear old Jared with his gentle comradeship and his ardent love of books.”

Insight

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Still more wisdom from German aphorist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799):

  • “That man is the noblest creature may also be inferred from the fact that no other creature has yet contested this claim.”
  • “If people should ever start to do only what is necessary, millions would die of hunger.”
  • “I am convinced we do not only love ourselves in others, but hate ourselves in others too.”
  • “Erudition can produce foliage without bearing fruit.”
  • “Nothing is judged more carelessly than people’s characters, and yet there is nothing about which we should be more cautious. Nowhere do we wait less patiently for the sum total which actually is the character. I have always found that the so-called bad people gain when we get to know them more closely, and the good ones lose.”
  • “Completely to block a given effect requires a force equal to that which caused it. To give it a different direction, a trifle will often suffice.”
  • “Undeniably, what we call perseverance can lend the appearance of dignity and grandeur to many actions, just as silence in company affords wisdom and apparent intelligence to a stupid person.”
  • “The sure conviction that we could if we wanted to is the reason so many good minds are idle.”
  • “There were honest people long before there were Christians and there are, God be praised, still honest people where there are no Christians. It could therefore easily be possible that people are Christians because true Christianity corresponds to what they would have been even if Christianity did not exist.”
  • “He who knows himself properly can very soon learn to know all other men. It is all reflection.”
  • “It is certain, it seems, that we can judge some matter correctly and wisely and yet, as soon as we are required to specify our reasons, can specify only those which any beginner in that sort of fencing can refute. Often the wisest and best men know as little how to do this as they know the muscles with which they grip or play the piano. This is very true and deserves to be pursued further.”

See Diamonds and Pearls, From the Notebooks, and The Sage of Göttingen.

Doctor Doctor

Apt names of medical specialists, collected by the MEDLIB-L discussion list in 1998:

Cardiologists: Dr. Valentine, Dr. Hart, Dr. Safety R. First

Chiropractors: Dr. Popwell, Dr. Wack, Dr. Bonebrake, Dr. Bender

Dentists, endodontists and orthodontists: Dr. Pullen, Dr. Fillmore, Dr. Hurt, Dr. Yankum, Dr. Les Plack, Dr. Toothman, Dr. Borer, Dr. Pullman, Dr. Filler, Dr. Harm, Dr. Hurter, Dr. Toothaker

Dermatologists: Dr. Rash, Dr. Pitts, Dr. Skinner, Dr. Whitehead

Family practice, internists: Dr. Kwak, Dr. Blood, Dr. Coffin, Dr. Patient, Dr. Payne, Dr. Slaughter, Dr. A. Sickman, Dr. Deadman, Dr. Will Griever

Hand surgeons: Dr. Palmer, Dr. Nalebuff, Dr. Watchmaker

Medical librarian: Rita Book

Neurologists: Dr. Johnathan Treat Paine, Dr. Brain, Dr. Head

Pediatricians: Dr. Donald Duckles, Dr. Small, Dr. Bunny, Dr. Tickles

Psychiatrists/psychologists/mental health: Dr. Brain, Dr. Strange, Dr. Dippy, Dr. Moodie, Dr. Nutter, Dr. Looney

Surgeons: Dr. Hackman, Dr. Blades, Dr. Klutts, Dr. Graves, Dr. Cutts, Dr. Slaughter, Dr. Kutteroff, Dr. Doctor, Dr. Butcher, Dr. Hurt

More here. In 1977 authors A.J. Splatt and D. Weedon submitted an article on incontinence to the British Journal of Urology. It was accepted.

Sunset

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In May 1856, an African teenager named Nongqawuse had a vision: If her people killed all their cattle, she said, their long-dead ancestors would rise and drive out the European settlers.

Word spread quickly, and they did as she urged. In 10 months that followed, the Xhosa nation killed 400,000 cattle, driven by mounting rumor and revelation that great fields of corn would also spring into existence, that their ancient heroes would return to life, and that sickness and old age would disappear. In his Compendium of South African History and Geography of 1877, George McCall Theal records the climax:

At length the morning dawned of the day so long and so ardently looked for. All night long the Kaffirs had watched, with feeling stretched to the utmost tension of excitement, expecting to see two blood-red suns rise over the eastern hills, when the heavens would fall and crush the races they hated. Famished with hunger, half dying as they were, that night was yet a time of fierce, delirious joy. The morn, that a few short hours, slowly becoming minutes, would usher in, was to see all their sorrows ended, all their misery past. And so they waited and watched. It came, throwing a silver sheen upon the mountain peaks, and bathing hill-side and valley in a flood of light, as the ruler of day appeared. The hearts of the watchers sank within them; ‘What,’ said they, ‘will become of us if Mhlakaza’s predictions turn out untrue?’ It was the first time they had asked such a question, the dawn of doubt had never entered their thoughts till the dawn of the fatal day. But perhaps, after all, it might be midday that was meant, and when the shadows began to lengthen towards the east perhaps, thought they, the setting of the sun is the time. The sun went down behind clouds of crimson and gold, and the Amaxosa awoke to the reality of their dreadful position.

The ensuing famine killed 40,000 Xhosa. “Nongqause escaped, and is still living,” Theal wrote. “For prudential reasons she has ever since resided in the colony, where she preserves an unbroken silence concerning the deeds in which she played so prominent a part.”

Unquote

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“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” — G.K. Chesterton

Square Deal

Wordplay maven Dave Morice discovered something strange in 1992: Write out the three-letter word ONE, and beneath it write out the next odd number whose name is spelled with four letters, then the next spelled with five letters, and so on up to TWENTY-ONE, which has nine letters. Then, in a separate column, do the same with even numbers, from the three-letter TWO to the nine-letter TWENTY-TWO — but list these in reverse order:

square deal

Now each line contains 12 letters — and in each instance the numbers named total 23! What does this mean?

Book Search

For her 1974 book Lighter Side of the Library, Janice Glover asked American librarians to recall titles requested by confused patrons, and the books they turned out to want:

Requested: Who Is Your Schoolmaster?
Book wanted: Hoosier Schoolmaster

Requested: Entombed With an Infant
Book wanted: In Tune With the Infinite

Requested: The Missing Hand
Book wanted: A Farewell to Arms

Requested: The Armored Chinaman
Book wanted: The Chink in the Armour

Requested: King of the Ants
Book wanted: Lord of the Flies

Requested: The Wooden Kid
Book wanted: Pinocchio

Requested: Five Pennies and the Sun
Book wanted: The Moon and Sixpence

And so on: From Here to Maternity; The Merchant of Venus; “Allergy in a Country Churchyard”; My Heart Is Wounded, They Buried My Knee. One inspired library staff finally sent a student home with Homer’s Iliad; he had come in asking for Homeless Idiot.

Cold Case

Enigma, the official publication of the National Puzzlers’ League, published this item in the “Chat” column of its August 1916 issue:

“The police department of Lima, O., is greatly puzzled over a cryptic message received in connection with the robbery of a Western Ohio ticket agent. Here it is: WAS NVKVAFT BY AAKAT TXPXSCK UPBK TXPHN OHAY YBTX CPT MXHG WAE SXFP ZAV FZ ACK THERE FIRST TXLK WEEK WAYZA WITH THX.”

As far as I can tell, in the ensuing 97 years it has never been solved. Any ideas?

Down and Out

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A letter received by the White House in February 1936:

Dear Mr. President:

I’m a boy of 12 years. I want to tell you about my family. My father hasn’t worked for 5 months. He went plenty times to relief, he filled out application. They won’t give us anything. I don’t know why. Please you do something. We haven’t paid 4 months rent. Everyday the landlord rings the door bell, we don’t open the door for him. We are afraid that will be put out, been put out before, and don’t want to happen again. We haven’t paid the gas bill, and the electric bill, haven’t paid grocery bill for 3 months. My brother goes to Lane Tech. High School. he’s eighteen years old, hasn’t gone to school for 2 weeks because he got no carfare. I have a sister she’s twenty years, she can’t find work. My father he
staying home. All the time he’s crying because he can’t find work. I told him why are you crying daddy, and daddy said why shouldn’t I cry when there is nothing in the house. I feel sorry for him. That night I couldn’t sleep. The next morning I wrote this letter to you in my room. Were American citizens and were born in Chicago, Ill. and I don’t know why they don’t help us Please answer right away because we need it. will starve Thank you.
God bless you.

In her “My Day” newspaper column on Dec. 30, 1935, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “I wonder if anyone else glories in cold and snow without, an open fire within, and the luxury of a tray of food all by one’s self in one’s own room?” A Columbus, Ind., woman responded, “I would give ten years of my life to be able to have the luxury of an open fire just one evening, as you write about in the Indianapolis Times.”